Eighteen and elephants.
Don’t laugh, but this became a driving force behind the next stage of rebuilding our company. I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it is to have a sense of purpose that is meaningful to you. I have been in sales most of my life, and in any sales position there is always so much emphasis on goals. You learn early on that goals have limitations. After you reach them, then what? A purpose, on the other hand, is ongoing.
My mission was never about money or being the biggest company. It was always about a specific purpose which was to honor my father and his legacy. I knew if I did that right, the rest would fall into place.
Eighteen was a number we kids associated with my father. 18 means chai, for life, in Hebrew. So anytime my father would provide money as a gift for us, our children, or even his friends, it was always in multiples of 18—occasionally 9 if he wanted to be funny, or make a point. 18 for me was even more personal, representing our birthday connection; his November 8th, mine on the 10th.
To further explain how and why 18 and elephants became important to our company’s purpose, let me share a few very personal stories.
My sister Elizabeth and I got a call on Saturday the 9th of April saying that we needed to get to NY quickly as my father was not waking up, and they thought this was it. We both caught flights right away and met up at the airport in NY the morning of the 10th before heading to the hospital. All we were hoping for is that my father would wait for us to get there, and, just as he was there for us all of our lives, he was there for us then too. As soon as we got to the hospital, one of the staff took us up to his room. Within a short time, all his children were gathered, and it was clear he was not waking up. The on-call doctor came to update us that my father was not getting better. He suggested we move him to the private room next door. This meant leaving room 18.
I realized then that this was the last gift of 18 that we would be getting from my father. As we were all in the room trying to figure out what next, it became clear that he was not breathing well. I leaned down towards him, put my cheek on his, and let him know that if he was ready to go, it was okay, we are here. It was the first time in many years that my father just listened to me. That moment would become one of the most important for me down the road. 18 continued to be an influence in our lives, having several milestone moments through our rebuilding process.
Coincidently, my first trip back to Israel, since being there with my father in 2009, was over Father’s Day, June 18—a moment I shared with my daughter that I will never forget. While I had believed that waiting for us in room 18 was his last gift, there was one more that validated why 18 would be important to our purpose and our future. I had invited my sister to Florida with me to decorate and setup our new offices. Florida was a place my father loved, and we made sure to have his presence felt in the office with an espresso machine and his hats and jackets on the coat rack. On the night my sister and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale, it was near midnight and the only restaurant open was a pizza place about a 20-minute walk. We ordered our late-night dinner and the total on the receipt was $18.18. Once we were over the shock, we both knew this was our father giving his final blessing to each of us individually and together, as we began to take the next steps to rebuild his company. It was truly a mitzvah.
In terms of elephants, my father collected statuettes from around the world. When he passed away, there must have been more than 500 in his apartment, but they naturally went to our half-sisters on the east coast. While I was disappointed and saddened that I was not going to have a piece of what was so important to him, I understood that this was familial to them and over the next few days, I came to accept it. A few weeks later, I was in Hawaii with my family and within 30 minutes of being at the beach my youngest son, Nathan Michael Ady Gelber, who was 3 at the time, came running up to me and said, “Dad, look, it’s an elephant.” Nathan only met my dad 2-3 times when very young, and certainly had no clue of my angst with the elephants. The idea that he saw this piece of coral as an elephant, and then brought it to me…well, let’s just say that elephants became an important symbol for me and my purpose. This coral elephant not only sits on my desk, but I also take it with me on every trip.
My father loved my oldest son Connor as much as I do. Sadly, Connor struggled with addiction to heroin at an early age. My father was not only concerned about him, but also worried about how it affected me. He always encouraged me to never give up on my son. A few months after my father died, I was in Venice beach with my two youngest children and someone stole my bike’s kid trailer. I filed a police report though the officer said not to count on getting it back. The next morning, I got a text saying they think they found my trailer, but can I confirm that there was a small brown box in the back with two elephants on top? I teared up and said that it was not mine, but I am sure it had something to do with my father and I shared the story about elephants. When I got there, he showed me a parole document of the person who stole it. He was on probation because of his addiction to heroin. On the top of this random brown box they found in the trailer was a larger elephant with its trunk wrapped around the smaller one. The officer gave it to me. My purpose with the company and my son was never so clear.
While my purpose comes from a very personal story, the truth is, yours must too—if you are going to be successful and be able to stay committed through the toughest times. Purpose is what drives us. It is what lets us stay connected to a part of us that has greater value than any act we perform or success we achieve. Our souls need it. Our individual sense of what we are doing needs it. And it is what fills our reservoir with passion and desire that have no boundaries, regardless of all the bumps that may occur along the way. Though I often wondered whether, if my father knew what had happened to his company after he fell ill, would he have wanted me and my sister to take on the burden of it or just let it go? My question was unmistakably answered.
Now, my purpose is very clear; it is to ensure that my father’s legacy lives on forever and that his spirit lives on in our purpose, whether led by me today, my children tomorrow, or my grandchildren thereafter. Every decision we make will always have some attachment to honoring my father, the blessing with the number 18, and the strength and love that elephants represent.
Find your purpose, find yourself.
CEO – World of Travel
An Ady Gelber Legacy Company.
P: 212.507.9204 M:916.835.6499